Marine Mural Project - by Robert Roach
The Fine Arts have always been a strong and visible force at our elementary school. Walking anywhere on campus, you will see examples of student artwork that demonstrate talent as well as depth of understanding. Since coming to work as a science teacher here, I have been impressed by the art I see all around me. I was especially impressed by a series of murals painted on the ceiling tiles in our LMC. The ceiling tile mural project was completed under the supervision of our full-time Learning Through Art (LTA) teacher, Denise Gaudiano, so I asked for her help to replicate the impressive results.
My years of diving and my special interest in marine biology shaped the ceiling tile project in my room. Each of my three science classes worked on their own unique mural, but the central theme of each was an oceanscape. The idea was to reinforce what students had learned in our habitat unit that focused on marine habitats in general and specifically in the Gulf of Mexico. The general focus on the marine environment was a natural result of my own interests, but the specific focus on the Gulf of Mexico was my attempt to make the curriculum pertinent and relevant. Our school in Houston is less than one hundred miles from the Gulf.
With Mrs. Gaudiano's guidance, the students began to design their murals. They began by looking through pictures taken from magazines and other resources and selecting the organisms they wanted as elements of the final composition. Students had to compose the initial design as a class, keeping in mind those elements of style taught to them by Mrs. Gaudiano as well as notions of what organisms might actually be found together in any particular area. This integration of art and science continued when paint was applied to the sketches. The colors chosen had to reflect not only knowledge of concepts like adaptive coloration, camouflage, and development, but also an understanding of how various colors work together in a painting.
It should be stressed that every student was involved in this project. I was able to get total involvement for two reasons. First, students have the confidence in their abilities that students not attending a Fine Arts magnet school lack. Second, I structured the project so as to make it easy for all to take part. During the design process all the students collected pictures, and all were part of the process of determining which elements would be part of the final design. After the final design was established, it was sketched by the students onto six ceiling tiles. Each of my science classes is made up of six lab groups of three or four students. Each of these lab groups got one of the tiles to work on. Breaking the painting up like this made it manageable to have more than twenty kids all working on the same painting at the same time.
The final products exemplify exactly those elements that inspired me to begin the project in the first place. The murals, now displayed in my science classroom, not only can stand alone as works of art, but also demonstrate many key scientific concepts and so can be used as a teaching resource. Integration across the curriculum continued, as this project was the inspiration for haiku and cinquain poetry written in my students' Language Arts classes. The project took time and considerable effort, but the results were everything I hoped for, and more.
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